Broadly speaking, perfectionism is a theme Disney has recently called upon in its movies. I’m thinking here about Moana, (“I wish I could be the perfect daughter.”) and Elsa from Frozen (her need for perfect control over her powers). We find it again in Encanto.
Right from the start, Mirabel identifies her older sister, Isabela, as “the perfect, golden child.” On the surface, Isabela’s power seems pretty frivolous. She can make flowers appear at will. That’s it. Just showers of flowers wherever and whenever. Through Mirabel’s eyes, Isabela is also gorgeous, graceful, praised and adored by all, and in a word, perfect.
We all know no one is perfect, not even Disney characters. Today, let’s think about why perfectionism, especially when it’s imposed or expected of us from the outside, is harmful. Also, how can unrealistic expectations harm both individuals and relationships.
Quick synopsis. Isabela is planning to become engaged to the local poetry writing hunk, Mariano. I should amend that statement: Abuela is planning to have Isabela engaged to Mariano. We find out in Isabela’s feature song scene, “What Else Can I Do?” that she was only going to marry Mariano because it was what the family wanted, not what she wanted. In her anger and frustration at Mirabel who has drawn this revelation out of her, she creates something new and completely out of her ordinary – a asymmetrical spiked cactus.
Mirabel and Isabela are envious of what the other has. Mirabel wants to be loved and accepted the way she perceives Isabela is. Isabela wishes for nothing more than to be able to be who she truly is without the pressure to be perfect all the time which is how she views Mirabel. The two sisters clash often in the first half of the movie because they haven’t taken the time to understand one another. The “perfect” Isabela cannot tolerate Mirabel’s haphazard and carefree attitude because it isn’t something she’s ever experienced.
In her song, Isabela reflects that she shows the world a perfect facade of herself, but “so much hides behind my smile.” While perfection might seem beautiful on the outside, it sure is up tight on the inside trying to hold everything in place. It is interesting to think back a few scenes in the movie to the song about Bruno. In the song, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” Isabela reveals that Bruno foresaw that she would have the life of her dreams. This has lead her to believe that the current life she has must be the life of her dreams, even if she is actually unhappy. What a distorted understanding of how life ought to be lived!
How many of us fall into this trap? Think about someone you know or know of who leads a “perfect life.” From the outward appearances, perhaps they do have it all together. But do they really, under the surface, have all their ducks in a row? We all know the answer is no, no one is perfect. Yet still we hold people up as somehow better or closer to perfection. When they fail to live up to the unrealistic expectations, their fall is usually more of a crash than a slip or slide.
Perfectionism is a dangerous thing. Perfectionism can hold us back from trying something new because we fear failing or being perceived as less than. Perfectionism forces us to be “on” all the time, constantly vigilant for any small slip that would show something not quite right. Perfectionism sets relationships up for unrealistic expectations that can never be met.
In the end, perfectionism leads to a lot of boredom. Think about Isabela’s flowers. She can make miles and miles of perfectly structured roses but is unable to use her power to express her true emotions. The same flowers over and over again because it’s what is expected, it’s what is perfect. Isabela and the audience learn that beauty doesn’t need to be perfect, it needs to be authentic.
Jesus, thankfully, didn’t pick disciples who were perfect. Far from it. Whole homilies have been dedicated to the antics of St. Peter. Thomas demanded a sign from someone who had come back from the dead. They were consistently confused, unaware, off fishing or asleep. The disciples were decidedly not model students (or even fishermen!). This doesn’t mean they weren’t well chosen. Jesus selected these men not because they were perfect but because their hearts were ready to receive what He offered. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they were exactly the right men who would carry out the Good News to all people.
Jesus didn’t wait for the disciples to be ready to follow Him. Do you think they ever would have been ready? Jesus is calling you just as He called them. He isn’t asking you to be perfect, or even a certain distances along the path toward it. He is asking you to follow Him. The rest, holy perfection included, will come with time as He gifts it to you.